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Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction

The following is a piece of writing submitted by Douglas on September 23, 2007
"When I started writing this, the only thing I had in mind was the very first sentence: I wish I understood the human brain."

I Wish I Understood the Human Brain

I wish I understood the human brain. I don't mean I want to know all the biology and chemistry, all the synapses and nerve impulses; I just want to understand why people do the things they do. Take Russell, for example. Russell is a young man, getting ready to graduate from high school in another year. Tall, thin - but not beanpole thin - good looking, and above all, a bright, bright boy.

Ask any of Russell's teachers and they'll tell you, Russell does A+ work in every class. He participates, he listens, he cooperates, all his homework assignments are passed in not just on time but before time. And his tests, his teachers will tell you, are a thing of beauty. If Russell misses a problem on a test, before marking it wrong, all but the most arrogant of teachers will pause for a moment and ask themselves: Did I make a mistake on this problem?

But that's Russell in the classroom. Put him at home and he's a whole different animal. I stopped in to visit Russell's family yesterday, and while I was sitting in the living room, chatting with Russell's dad, I noted a hole in the wall - it looked as though a baseball had come careening through the window and smashed through the sheetrock. I asked Russell's dad about it.

He hemmed for a moment, and then admitted, "Russell did that."

"With a baseball?" I said.

"Er. No. With his fist."

I chuckled, thinking he was joking. Then when he didn't join in the laugh, I paused, then stopped altogether. For a moment I didn't say anything, then I said simply: "Why?"

"His sister took the last pop-tart at breakfast."

I almost laughed again, but remembered that this man wasn't making jokes. "I didn't realize Russell had violence issues," I finally said, tentatively.

"Well," the father said, and this time he cracked a tiny smile - but a smile with a touch of bitterness to it - "He's getting better - at least this time he didn't hit his sister."

We went on to talk about other things, and the discussion became much less uncomfortable - it's easier to talk about work and sports and church and bowling leagues than about sons who put their fists through the wall because of a missing pop-tart.

But here's what I keep thinking, every time I think about Russell: at the rate he's going, by the time he's twenty-four years old he's going to own the pop-tart company, and then he can have all the pop-tarts he wants, day and night. In fact, he'll have so many pop-tarts that his sister could steal a truckload of them every day and he'd never notice the difference. So what is the sense of jeopardizing a family relationship that ought to last a lifetime, for a piece of food that'll last twenty seconds?

As I said, I wish I understood the human brain.

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